for I am about to sin. It’s been forever since my last confession, which you took, by the way, back when Saint Mary’s was down on the water, maybe 20 years back. I don’t know I ever believed in absolution, but I always trusted you.
You might not remember me—I’m the kid they called Ribeye cause of that quarter-moon cut down the eyelid. I’m the numbskull put the black cherry Kool-Aid in the Holy Water during night service that one Good Friday, and I know you remember that, those women howling about the blood of Christ.
And then one time you caught me sleeping behind the altar when I ran from home. Yeah. And remember me and that real freckly kid, Martin something, we got into it at catechism like a couple of hounds after the same skunk, knocked over the fish tank and scared Sister Mirth something silly. My old man had to pull off an overtime shift that time to come get me. I remember he promised you he’d put the belt to me, but you said, and I remember this so clear that to this day I can hear you saying it, saying he should hold off cause a fight between boys isn’t such a big thing. You said it takes a person time, years of living, to gain control, to get a handhold onto what’s right and what’s not. For the longest time that was my vision of sin: losing control so you can’t follow those Ten Commandments, even if you wanted to.
Except it’s not that simple, not that easy. I remember when Pops gave me this BB gun, and I was so excited, and right off I’m Davy Crockett on a tear, start shooting things left and right, most anything that moved. And I shoot this robin out of a tree and it falls right at my feet like God’s sending me a sign. I see the little thing struggling to get back up on its stick legs, but it can’t move off its side. I know right off I’ve done something terrible. So I carry it into the house cradled in my hands and ask Pops if he can save it. Of course, he can’t. I know he’s ashamed of me, and I feel that knife of self-hate dig at my soul. I’m crying, hoping Pops will say or do something that will both save the bird and save me. Instead, he tells me what I have to do.
So we go out back, me holding that little bird, Pops with the shovel. I set the thing on the ground and he hands me the tool. It takes me some doing, but I raise the shovel with its rust edge down. The little bird’s so still, just looking up at me with those robin eyes, just staring like it sees what’s deep inside me, like it’s stunned by the horror of it. I think that’s when I begin to understand: sin’s damn personal.
Now I think God puts a little seed within us, a thing can tell us the right from the wrong. It’s people like you and maybe even Pops who water the seed so it grows, eventually gets so big there’s not as much room for sin. At least if we’re lucky that’s what happens.
Today I don’t steal or lie, couldn’t shoot a little thing if my life depended on it. I quit it all, even stopped cheating on the missus, ever since I dropped the booze and me and her patched things up. By the way, quitting the drink, we did it together, Pops and me, now six years past. That’s something, the pair of us going to meetings, talking the talk. Talking.
Well, not since that forklift got his leg. See, the leg kept sending these clots to his brain, which shuttered down bit by bit. Now, he’s frozen, can’t say a single word. They call it vegetative. But I don’t think that’s the whole of it. Sometimes I see him leak these thin, thin tears. He’s there, locked away in his skull, helpless.
And I know what he wants. He’s begging in his silence, begging for me to act, telling me as surely as if he could put the shovel in my hand. I tell you father, I love him that much.
And I do understand the Ten Commandments. I know the importance of number five—honoring the folks. And, of course, right behind it, number six, the not killing. They seem straight enough. But here’s the thing: in this situation I’m facing, doing the one violates the other. There’s no way around it. So I’m gonna sin, whether I act or not. That’s my confession here.
And when I leave this holy space I’m heading over to the care home. I’ve got this plastic bag in my pocket, feeling as heavy as that shovel did. God help me. I don’t know what I’m gonna do, alone with him, and he looking up at me with those robin eyes.
“Bless Me Father” by Gordon Gregory appeared in Issue 38 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Gordon Gregory is a former reporter who worked with a variety of newspapers in Montana and Oregon, where he received press awards for investigative and environmental reporting, as well as feature writing. He grew up in Nevada and now lives in Paradise, Calif. with wife, Linda. Their daughter, Georgia, is a current student at Cal. He has written two novels (both as yet unpublished), and dozens of short stories, two of which were recognized by Writers’ Digest.